Newly formed committee meeting targets racism in the workplace

A newly formed committee is holding its first in a series of community meetings on anti-black racism Thursday evening.

Meeting will hear from Ken Jeffers, the only black member of the Toronto Police Services Board

Ken Jeffers, a veteran activist and the only black member of the Toronto Police Services Board, will be the keynote speaker at a meeting on anti-black racism in the workplace. (Toronto Police Services Board Website)

The workplace is supposed to be a safe space, but Arlene Wallace says that's not the case for people who experience anti-black racism.

"These stories have gone on systematically for generations for years," said Wallace, who is part of a new group called the Expose Toronto Committee, which is holding the first of a series of meetings Thursday night on racism in the city.

Ken Jeffers, the only black member of the Toronto Police Services Board, is the keynote speaker.

"What we're doing in this meeting is coming together in a supportive group to have dialogue about their experiences and what we also plan to do is help and support these individuals to overcome and to manage," Wallace told CBC Toronto.

The meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Wellesley Community Centre at 495 Sherbourne St., will address racism in both the public and private sector.

Wallace says there will be people coming forward to share personal stories of their experiences with racism.

"The testimonials that will be heard are quite traumatic," Wallace said. "There's trauma there. There's PTSD there."

Mental health issues as a result of experiencing racism will also be addressed at the meeting and the committee will be sharing resources that people can access to help them overcome depression and anxiety.

Wallace stresses how much of an impact it can have on an employee when they don't feel safe in their workplace.

"Employment is the force of sustaining your families," Wallace said. "When that's impacted, clearly you're going to develop issues."

'It's kept a secret'

Jeffers, a veteran community activist who was appointed to the Toronto Police Services Board in 2015, says mental health issues that start in the workplace end up affecting entire families.

"It's kept a secret," he said. "Few people admit mental health because there's a sense of shame."

Jeffers has spent years advocating for equality in Toronto. He says it was time to start focusing specifically on the workplace.

 "We decided to focus on employment because it's a bread and butter issue that many people have talked about," Jeffers said.

Jeffers says there has been some positive movement, referencing the city of Toronto's recent commitment to take steps to address anti-black racism.

Back in October, council approved a $400,000 grant to support black youth leadership projects.

"There's an acknowledgement of anti-black racism and some efforts to address it," Jeffers said.

He hopes to get some answers at Thursday's meeting.

"What I'm hoping to achieve with the committee is to get some answers from the Human Rights Commission about how they will protect black workers," Jeffers said.

 "We want to be sure that there's a specific plan to address."

Jeffers added that he's had his own encounters with racism in the workplace throughout his career.

"I have had several experiences, actually, where I have addressed it in a way that has brought results. But you're dealing with a system issue and that's never easy to deal with."